The tight-knit horror fiction community was left reeling last week by the loss of three gentlemen over a ten-day period; three men who’d served as inspiration, as mentors, as legends, as examples of the best the genre has to offer. They were men who, in their own individual ways, pushed against the boundaries of horror to challenge what it could do and what could be said within its confines.
David B. Silva died around March 12.
James Herbert died on March 20.
Rick Hautala died on March 21.
Each of them was in his 60s, and each was still working – in fact, each of them had published books within the last few months. Based on the outpouring of remembrances that have flooded the Internet over the last several days, each of them had a profound impact on their fellow horror writers.
Of the three, the casual reader is most likely to have heard the name of James Herbert. His novel The Rats was published in 1974, and it instantly became legendary due to its unflinchingly graphic nature. While that book remains the most visible title in his catalog, he went on to write more than twenty additional novels, running the gamut from extreme horror to quiet ghost stories to supernatural thrillers. Fans have snapped up more than 54 million copies of his books, leading many to consider him the “British Stephen King.”
David B. Silva did not sell 54 million copies of his books, but the shadow he cast over the horror genre looms just as large. He was a writer, yes, and a good one – his work earned him honors like the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. But he’s probably best known as the founder and editor of two seminal horror publications: The Horror Show, a magazine that specialized in horror fiction that Silva produced in the 1980s, and Hellnotes, which began life as an e-mail newsletter and eventually morphed into a website that specialized in genre news and reviews.
The Horror Show published a lot of important horror writers before they were “important,” writers like Bentley Little and Poppy Z. Brite and Joe R. Lansdale. It’s an undeniable influence on most of the horror fiction magazines that have filled the void it left, like Cemetery Dance and Shroud and Dark Discoveries and so many more.
Hellnotes has a special place in my heart because one of my earliest reviews was published there, a look at Tom Piccirilli’s book The Fever Kill that ran in September of 2007. It’s still there, still says it was “Posted by Dave.” I’d never made the connection that “Dave” was the same David Silva who published The Horror Show, of which I sadly only own one copy but was always aware of.
Rick Hautala was a writer that seemed to exist most of the time on the outer fringes of the mainstream idea of horror. He had his own unique voice, and he used it to write novels and novellas and short stories and comics and screenplays. He never compromised his muse, even though the path it led him down was often a rocky one. I had the pleasure of corresponding briefly with Rick a few years ago after I reviewed his collection, Occasional Demons and he talked about the frustration he felt in trying to find a home for a book called The Cove. As far as I know, he never did publish it, but it didn’t derail him – he just put his head down and kept on writing. (Editor’s note: Luckily, The Cove was published as Rough Winds in eBook format by Necon E-Books in September 2012. Because The Cove was never an officially announced book, Necon E-Books didn’t advertise that Rough Winds was the same book.)
The impact each of these men had on the horror genre won’t be measured in the amount of books they wrote (or sold), or the amount of fans they had, or the amount of Twitter followers or Facebook friends they gathered. It will be measured instead in the way that the genre marches forward without them, healthy and strong, sustained by the stories of those who wouldn’t be here without the advice or encouragement or pure inspiration these three provided; the Brian Keenes and the Tim Lebbons and the Brian Hodges and the Laird Barrons and the Kealan Patrick Burkes, and so many more. In that way, their legacies are not sealed now that they are gone; instead, their legacies are vibrant and alive, a permanent part of the genre they loved.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.